Paleoconservatism (sometimes shortened to paleocon) is a conservative political philosophy found primarily in the United States stressing tradition, limited government and civil society, along with religious, regional, national and Western identity.
According to international relations scholar Michael Foley,
paleoconservatives press for restrictions on immigration, a rollback of multicultural programmes, the decentralization of the federal policy, the restoration of controls upon free trade, a greater emphasis upon economic nationalism and isolationism in the conduct of American foreign policy, and a generally revanchist outlook upon a social order in need of recovering old lines of distinction and in particular the assignment of roles in accordance with traditional categories of gender, ethnicity, and race.
Practitioners of this philosophy
identify themselves as the legitimate heirs to the American conservative tradition.
Elizabethtown College professor Paul Gottfried is credited with coining the term in the 1980s. He says the term originally referred to various Americans, such as conservative and traditionalist Catholics and agrarian Southerners, who turned to anti-communism during the Cold War.
Paleoconservative thought has been published by the Rockford Institute’s Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. Politician Pat Buchanan was strongly influenced by its articles and helped create another paleocon publication, The American Conservative. Its concerns overlap those of the Old Right that opposed the New Deal in the 1930s and 1940s, as well as American social conservatism of the late 20th century expressed, for example, in the book Single Issues by Joseph Sobran.
The prefix paleo derives from the Greek root palaeo- meaning “ancient” or “old”. It is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and refers to the paleocons’ claim to represent a more historic, authentic conservative tradition than that found in neoconservatism. Adherents of paleoconservatism often describe themselves simply as “paleo-.” Rich Lowry of National Review claims the prefix “is designed to obscure the fact that it is a recent ideological creation of post-Cold War politics.”
The paleoconservatives use the term conservative somewhat differently from some US opponents of leftism. Paleocons may reject attempts by Rush Limbaugh and others to graft short-term policy goals—such as school choice, enterprise zones, and faith-based initiatives—into the core of conservatism. This is mainly due to the paleoconservatives’ desire to see these incorporated as long-term institutional goals, rather than short-term victories for the movement itself. In this way, paleocons are generally regarded as taking the “long view” toward US conservatism, willing to suffer temporary setbacks while never taking their aim off the goal of establishing the primacy of conservative thought into US politics.
Moreover, Samuel T. Francis, Thomas Fleming and some other paleocons de-emphasized the “conservative” part of the “paleoconservative” label, saying that they do not want the status quo preserved. Fleming and Paul Gottfried called such thinking “stupid tenacity” and described it as “a series of trenches dug in defense of last year’s revolution.” Francis defined authentic conservatism as “the survival and enhancement of a particular people and its institutionalized cultural expressions.” He said of the paleoconservative movement:
What paleoconservatism tries to tell Americans is that the dominant forces in their society are no longer committed to conserving the traditions, institutions, and values that created and formed it, and, therefore, that those who are really conservative in any serious sense and wish to live under those traditions, institutions, and values need to oppose the dominant forces and form new ones.
The earliest mention of the word paleoconservative listed in Nexis is an article by J. Patrick Lewis in the October 20, 1984, issue of The Nation, referring to academic economists who allegedly work to redefine poverty. The American Heritage Dictionary (fourth edition) lists a generic, informal use of the term, meaning “extremely or stubbornly conservative in political matters.” Outside of the United States, the word is sometimes spelled palaeoconservative.
Many paleoconservatives identify themselves as “classical conservatives” and trace their philosophy to the Old Right Republicans of the interwar period which influenced the U.S. not to join the League of Nations, reduce immigration with the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924, and oppose Franklin Roosevelt. They often look back even further, to Edmund Burke, as well as the anti-federalist movement that stretched from the days of Thomas Jefferson to John C. Calhoun.
Just as paleoconservatives’ non-interventionism stems from their skepticism as to what extent—if at all—European culture can be transplanted or forced upon non-Western cultures, paleoconservatives’ opposition to immigration is rooted in their skepticism of the ability of non-Western peoples to adopt European culture glass bottles for drinking water. As a result, paleocons are most distinctive in their emphatic opposition to open immigration by non-Europeans, and their general disapproval of U.S. intervention overseas. Sam Francis wrote:
We believe that the United States derives from and is an integral part of European civilization and the European people and that the American people and government should remain European in their composition and character. We therefore oppose the massive immigration of non-European and non-Western peoples into the United States that threatens to transform our nation into a non-European majority in our lifetime. We believe that illegal immigration must be stopped, if necessary by military force and placing troops on our national borders; that illegal aliens must be returned to their own countries; and that legal immigration must be severely restricted or halted through appropriate changes in our laws and policies.
They are also strongly critical of neoconservatives and their sympathizers in print media, talk radio and cable TV news. Paleocons often say they are not conservatives in the sense that they necessarily wish to preserve existing institutions or seek merely to slow the growth of modern big-government conservatism. They do not wish to be closely identified with the U.S. Republican Party. Rather, they seek the renewal of “small ‘r'” republican society in the context of the Western heritage, customs and civilization. Joseph Scotchie wrote:
Republics mind their own business. Their governments have very limited powers, and their people are too busy practicing self-government to worry about problems in other countries. Empires not only bully smaller, defenseless nations, they also can’t leave their own, hapless subjects alone…. Empires and small government aren’t compatible, either.
By contrast, paleocons see neoconservatives as empire-builders and themselves as defenders of the republic, pointing to Rome as an example of how an ongoing campaign of military expansionism can destroy a republic.
On some issues, many paleocons are hard to distinguish from others on the conservative spectrum. For example, they tend to oppose abortion on demand and gay marriage, while supporting capital punishment, handgun ownership and an original intent reading of the U.S. Constitution. On the other hand, paleocons are often more sympathetic to environmental protection, animal welfare, and anti-consumerism than others on the US Right.
Paleoconservatives argue that since human nature is limited and finite, any attempt to create a man-made utopia is headed for disaster and potential carnage. Instead, they lean toward tradition, family, customs, religious institutions and classical learning to provide wisdom and guidance.
Thomas Fleming stated this opposition to abstract ideals in a way that critic David Brooks called a “startling crescendo”:
Among the most dangerous of our theoretical illusions are the political fantasies that can be summed up in words like democracy; equality, and natural rights; the principle of one man, one vote and the American tradition of self-government. No one who lives in the world with his eyes open can actually believe in any of this.
Historian W. Wesley McDonald explains the opposition to ideology this way:
In a humane social order, a community of spirit is fostered in which generations are bound together. According to [Russell] Kirk, this link is achieved through moral and social norms that transcend the particularities of time and place and, because they form the basis of genuine civilized existence, can only be neglected at great peril. These norms, reflected in religious dogmas, traditions, humane letters, social habit and custom, and prescriptive institutions, create the sources of the true community that is the final end of politics.
Along these lines, Joseph Sobran, in his “Pensees”, argues that Western civilization relies on civility at the center of the society:
Civility is the relationship among citizens in a republic. It corresponds to the condition we call “freedom”, which is not just an absence of restraint or coercion, but the security of living under commonly recognized rules of conduct. Not all these rules are enforced by the state; legal institutions of civility depend on the ethical substratum and collapse when it is absent. And in fact the colloquial sense of civility as good manners is relevant to its political meaning: citizens typically deal with each other by consent, and they have to say “please” and “thank you” to each other.
Certain paleoconservatives say that tradition is a better guide than reason. For example, Mel Bradford wrote that certain questions are settled before any serious deliberation concerning a preferred course of conduct may begin. This ethic is based in a “culture of families, linked by friendship, common enemies, and common projects.” So a good conservative keeps “a clear sense of what Southern grandmothers have always meant in admonishing children, ‘we don’t do that’.”
Thomas Fleming calls tradition “a body of wisdom and truth and a set of attitudes and behavior handed down from one generation to another. It is our parents’ respect for their grandfathers that we reflect when we refuse to think ourselves wiser than our ancestors and do not presume to condemn their shortcomings.” By following tradition, Joseph Sobran said that society can maintain continuity with the past, through words, rituals, records, commemorations, and laws:
There is no question of “resisting change.” The only question is what can and should be salvaged from “devouring time.” Conservation is a labor, not indolence, and it takes discrimination to identify and save a few strands of tradition in the incessant flow of mutability. In fact conservation is so hard that it could never be achieved by sheer conscious effort. Most of it has to be done by habit, as when we speak in such a way as to make ourselves understood by others without their having to consult a dictionary, and thereby give a little permanence to the kind of tradition that is a language.
Furthermore, James Kalb argues that tradition succeeds where ideology fails because it includes habits and attitudes about things that are hard to articulate rationally. Many aspects of social life resist clear definition, so technocratic approaches to social policy deserve suspicion:
Our knowledge is partial and attained with difficulty. The effects of political proposals are difficult to predict and as the proposals become more ambitious their effects become incalculable. We can’t evaluate political ideas without accepting far more beliefs, presumptions and attitudes than we could possibly judge critically.
Many paleocons also say that Westerners have lost touch with their classical and European heritage, to the point that they are in danger of losing their civilization. Robert S. Griffin notes that paleocons fear the United States becoming a “secularized, homogenized, de-Europeanized, pacified, deluded, manipulated, lowest-common-denominator-leveled, popular-culture-dopified country”
The decadence of a civilization by loss of faith and vigour can be observed more than once in history. What is extraordinary about the American situation is the stupidity. The Romans, such is my impression, did not become stupid and incompetent with their decadence. Americans have not lost faith in their cultural inheritance—they have been entirely separated from it. How this happened is one of the few topics still worth exploring in this Twilight.
Paleocons tend to dislike abstract principles presented without connection to concrete roots, like religion, heritage or traditional institutions. This distaste for universalism includes the doctrinal conclusions by socialists, neo-Thomists and Straussians. For example, Mel Bradford wrote in “A Better Guide Than Reason” (citing Michael Oakeshott) that:
The only freedom which can last is a freedom embodied somewhere, rooted in a history, located in space, sanctioned by genealogy, and blessed by a religious establishment. The only equality which abstract rights, insisted upon outside the context of politics, are likely to provide is the equality of universal slavery. It is a lesson which Western man is only now beginning to learn.
Some paleocons also profess a conservative value-centered historicism, which Gottfried defines as “the belief that historical circumstances set values.” This is distinguished from nihilism, postmodernism and moral relativism. Samuel Francis argued that this position is a “Burkean appeal to tradition.” For example, Edmund Burke wrote in his “Reflections on the Revolution in France.”
I cannot stand forward, and give praise or blame to anything which relates to human actions, and human concerns, on a simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of metaphysical abstraction. Circumstances (which with some gentlemen pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing color and discriminating effect. The circumstances are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious to mankind.
Claes Ryn says that life has “an enduring purpose, but one that manifests itself differently as individuals and circumstances are different.” He writes:
For the conservative, the universal imperative that binds human beings does not announce its purpose in simple, declaratory statements. How, then, does one discern its demands? Sometimes only with difficulty. Only through effort can the good or true or beautiful be discovered, and they must be realized differently in different historical circumstances. The same universal values have diverse manifestations. Some of the concrete instantiations of universality take us by surprise. Because there is no simple roadmap to good, human beings need freedom and imagination to find it. Universality has nothing to do with uniformity.
Anti-Federalism is another key aspect of paleoconservatism, which adherents see as an antitype to the managerial state. The paleocon flavor urges honoring the principle of subsidiarity, that is, decentralized government, local rule, private property and minimal bureaucracy. In an international context, this view would be known as federalism and paleocons often look to John C. Calhoun for inspiration.
As to the role of statecraft in society, Thomas Fleming says it should not be confused with soulcraft. He gives his summary of the paleocon position:
Our basic position on the state has always been twofold: 1) a recognition that man is a social and political animal who cannot be treated as an “individual” without doing damage to human nature. In this sense libertarian theory is as wrong and as potentially harmful as communism. The commonwealth is therefore a natural and necessary expression of human nature that provides for the fulfillment of human needs, and 2) the modern state is a cancerous form of polity that has metastasized and poisoned the natural institutions from which the state derives all legitimacy—family, church, corporation (in the broadest sense), and neighborhood. Thus, it is almost always a mistake to try to use the modern state to accomplish moral or social ends.
Russell Kirk, for example, argued that most government tasks should be performed at the local or state level. This is intended to ward off centralization and protect community sentiment by putting the decision-making power closer to the populace. He rooted this in the Christian notion of original sin; since humanity is flawed, society should not put too much power in a few hands. Gerald J. Russello concluded that this involved “a different way of thinking about government, one based on an understanding of political society as beginning in place and sentiment, which in turn supports written laws.”
This anti-federalism extends to culture too. In general, this means that different regional groups should be able to maintain their own distinct identity. For example, Thomas Fleming and Michael Hill argue that the American South and every other region have the right to “preserve their authentic cultural traditions and demand the same respect from others.” In their Southern context they call on citizens to “take control of their own governments, their own institutions, their own culture, their own communities and their own lives” and “wean themselves from dependence on federal largesse.” They say that:
A concern for states’ rights, local self-government and regional identity used to be taken for granted everywhere in America. But the United States is no longer, as it once was, a federal union of diverse states and regions. National uniformity is being imposed by the political class that runs Washington, the economic class that owns Wall Street and the cultural class in charge of Hollywood and the Ivy League.
In a similar fashion, Pat Buchanan argued during the 1996 campaign that the social welfare should be left to the control of individual states. He also called for abolishing the U.S. Department of Education and handing decision-making over to parents, teachers and districts. Controversies such as evolution, busing and curriculum standards would be settled on a local basis. In addition, he opposed a 1998 Puerto Rican statehood plan on the grounds that the island would be ripped from its cultural and linguistic roots: “Let Puerto Rico remain Puerto Rico, and let the United States remain the United States and not try to absorb, assimilate and Americanize a people whose hearts will forever belong to that island.”
Paleocons often argue that modern managerial society is a threat to stable families. Allan C. Carlson, former president of the Rockford Institute, argues that
The family is the natural and fundamental social unit, inscribed in our nature as human beings, rooted in marriage, rooted in the commitment to bring new life into the world, and rooted in a deep respect for both ancestors and posterity.
He calls this a universal rule of human nature, true for Westerners and non-Westerners alike. He also argues that happiness “comes through natural family bonds” and that “the future of any nation shall be by way of the family.” He defines family as “a man and a woman living in a socially sanctioned bond called marriage for the purposes of propagating and rearing children, sharing intimacy and resources, and conserving lineage, property, and tradition.”
To be human is to be familial. Any significant departure from the family rooted in stable marriage, the welcoming of children, and respect for ancestors and posterity—any deviation from this social structure makes us in a way less “human”: that is, I think it fair to say, the true message of modern science.
Joseph Sobran picks up this same theme, saying that heterosexual marriage is hard-coded into human nature:
[Even] the Pope can’t change the nature of marriage. It existed, by necessity of human nature, long before Jesus or even Abraham…. This has nothing to do with mere disapproval of sodomy. Even societies that were indifferent to sodomy saw no reason to treat same-sex domestic partnerships as marriages. Why not? Because such unions don’t produce children…. To put it as unromantically as possible, people who have children should be stuck with each other, sharing the responsibility.
Paleocons also question the validity of gender feminism in similar ways, some questioning feminism in both its radical and moderate forms. They say that the push for total gender equality dehumanizes both men and women, damaging the nuclear family and sacralizing abortion. Certain attitudes toward feminism also create room for the managerial state to try engineering sexual equality. Gottfried described this position, which was influenced by scholar Allan Carlson, thus:
The change of women’s role, from being primarily mothers to self-defined professionals, has been a social disaster that continues to take its toll on the family. Rather than being the culminating point of Western Christian gentility, the movement of women into commerce and politics may be seen as exactly the opposite, the descent by increasingly disconnected individuals into social chaos.
Allan C. Carlson says that we live in a “post-family order”, in which elites no longer accept the centrality of family life. In response, he calls for a pro-active social conservatism that seeks “real alternatives to the centralized ‘corporate state’ that are compatible with liberty and family life.” He argues that there is a permanent tension between the family and “individualist, industrialized society.” He says the modern “abstract state” too often sees the family as “its principal rival” and tries to suppress it. It can also hurt family living by the unintended consequences of public policy with good intentions. He also chides U.S. Republicans “for consistently favoring Wall Street over Main Street.”
As an alternative to the “abstract state”, Carlson argues the state must recognize that men and women “are different in reproductive, economic, and social functions”, even though they share political and property rights. He says that churches and other religious bodies must step in and help rebuild “family-centered communities.” As for common people, he says,
Men and women are both called home to rebuild families with an inner sanctity, to relearn the authentic meanings of the ancient words husbandry and housewifery, and to exercise the natural family functions of education, the care of the weak, charity, and a common economic life.
Carlson argues that the family’s greatest challenge in the early 21st century comes from what he calls “soft totalitarianisms”, which are “packaged around a militant secular individualism, but still seeking to build a marriage-free, post-family order.” This includes same-sex marriage, the Left’s association of family values with abortion, and “equity feminism”. Samuel T. Francis uses similar ideas to argue that society should regulate sexual behavior, specifically laws against sodomy and gays in the military.
Other contemporary luminaries include Donald Livingston, a Professor of Philosophy at Emory and corresponding editor for Chronicles; Paul Craig Roberts, an attorney and former Reagan administration Treasury official; commentator Joseph Sobran (died 2010), a columnist and contributing editor for Chronicles; novelist and essayist Chilton Williamson, senior editor for books at Chronicles; classicist Thomas Fleming, editor of Chronicles; and historian Clyde N. Wilson, long-time contributing editor for Chronicles. Another prominent paleoconservative, Theodore Pappas, is the current executive editor of Encyclopædia Britannica.
The movement combines disparate people and ideas that might seem incompatible in another context. Such diversity of thought echoes the paleo opposition to ideology and political rationalism, reflecting the influence of thinkers like Russell Kirk and Michael Oakeshott.
Pat Buchanan argues that a good politician must “defend the moral order rooted in the Old and New Testament and Natural Law”—and that “the deepest problems in our society are not economic or political, but moral.” On the other hand, Samuel Francis complained that the “Religious Right” focuses on certain social issues and neglects other civilizational crises.
Russell Kirk (1914–94) is a key figure in paleoconservatism, in that several of his books present an outline of a pervasive Anglo-American conservative tradition that exists despite many other distinctions. His own career stretched long enough to for him to defend Robert A. Taft in the 1950s, write for National Review during the Cold War, criticize neoconservatism in the 1980s, and give speeches supporting Buchanan in 1992. One neoconservative writer, Dan Himmelfarb, even refers to Kirk’s The Conservative Mind as “the seminal work of paleoconservatism”, even though it was first published in 1953.
Kirk developed six “canons” of conservatism. Gerald J. Russello described them thus:
In addition, Kirk said Christianity and Western Civilization are “unimaginable apart from one another.” He said that “all culture arises out of religion. When religious faith decays, culture must decline, though often seeming to flourish for a space after the religion which has nourished it has sunk into disbelief.”
Kirk called libertarians “chirping sectaries”, quoting T. S. Eliot, and said that they and conservatives have nothing in common. He called the movement “an ideological clique forever splitting into sects still smaller and odder, but rarely conjugating.” He said a line of division exists between believers in “some sort of transcendent moral order” and “utilitarians admitting no transcendent sanctions for conduct.” He put libertarians in the latter category.
Kirk also popularized the Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke as the prototypical conservative—and many paleocons consider him a hallowed ancestor. For them, he represents a vital link between the American right and the greater tradition of British customs and common law. As such, his ideas are a touchstone for a conservatism that respects tradition, while rejecting authoritarianism.
In the United States, the Southern Agrarians, John T. Flynn, Albert Jay Nock, Garet Garrett, Robert R. McCormick, Felix Morley, and Richard M. Weaver among others, articulated positions that have proved influential among contemporary paleoconservatives. Some paleocons enthusiastically embrace the decentralizing tenets of the Anti-Federalists, such as John Dickinson and George Mason. Neoconservative critic David Brooks lists William Jennings Bryan, T. S. Eliot, Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, Cleanth Brooks, and Walker Percy as major paleo influences. The German-born and Calvinist political philosopher Johannes Althusius and his tract Politica, with its core emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity, has proven influential as well.
Paul Gottfried once noted an “occasional paleo association with over-the-top Catholicism.” In fact, counter-revolutionary (Roman Catholic) European precursors to the paleoconservatives include Joseph de Maistre, Charles Maurras, Juan Donoso Cortés, Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, and Pope Pius IX, though they tend to carry influence limited to the Roman Catholic traditionalist subset of paleoconservatism. G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc are also popular Catholic forebears of paleo thought. As for Chesterton and Belloc, Joseph Sobran explained their relevance:
This new, paganized Western society under the comprehensive state would have come as much less of a surprise to us if we’d paid more attention to the two great English Catholic writers of the pre-Bolshevik period…. In 1912, Belloc predicted the rise of a new form of tyranny, which he called “the Servile State”, neither capitalist nor socialist, in which one part of the population would be forced to support the other. He was not always accurate in detail, but he was right in principle. He saw that the cellular structure of Christian society was under assault. Chesterton agreed. Together both men resisted modernity in religion, morality, politics, economics, and art. They celebrated the Middle Ages, small private property, and above all Catholicism. In a famous epigram, typically defiant in its simplicity, Belloc proclaimed: “Europe is the Faith, and the Faith is Europe.”
Some non-Catholic paleocons, such as Sam Francis, complained that this tradition is overrepresented among conservative intellectuals, thus putting the movement out of step with Middle America. He reluctantly acknowledged the Southern Presbyterian influence upon his own thinking. In addition, precursors of a Protestant paleoconservatism can be seen in 19th century figures such as Robert Lewis Dabney, Charles Hodge, Friedrich Julius Stahl, Abraham Kuyper and Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer.
Many paleocons also look to more modernist or historicist sources, such as Machiavelli, Hobbes and even Gramsci for intellectual ammunition. Contrarian Leftists such as Eugene Genovese, Christopher Lasch and Paul Piccone also influenced the movement. Samuel Francis even explored the nihilistic fiction of H. P. Lovecraft. To them, such thinkers help explain modernity, power relationships, and show how managerial society subverted Western traditions.
Some modern European continental conservatives, such as Frenchmen Jacques Barzun, Alain de Benoist, and René Girard, have a mode of thought and cultural criticism esteemed by many paleoconservatives.
The southern conservative thread of paleoconservatism embodies the statesmanship of nineteenth-century figures such as John Randolph of Roanoke, John Taylor of Caroline and John C. Calhoun. It found modern expositors in Richard M. Weaver and Mel Bradford. Historian Paul V. Murphy argues that paleoconservatism is rooted in a group of intellectuals fascinated by antebellum culture and the Southern Agrarians, including Thomas Fleming, Clyde Wilson and Bradford. In the 1970s, Fleming, Wilson and Samuel Francis attended the University of North Carolina together, becoming what novelist Walker Percy called “the Chapel Hill conspiracy.”
Murphy wrote that they developed “a particularistic politics of states’ rights and localism, which they combine with a cultural and social criticism defined by Christian and patriarchal organicism.” He also says the Southern traditionalist worldview evolved into what appeared in “Chronicles” from the mid-1980s onward, a focus on national identity mixed with regional particularity, plus skepticism of abstract theory and centralized power. They also said the mainstream view of the old South was distorted. For example, Bradford said:
The way to look at the institution of slavery is not backward from 1991 but forward from the hundred years before 1860. Slavery was like the rising and setting of the sun, a fixture of life. In pre-Colonial times, everyone was racist, except a few Quakers. Jefferson thought that Negroes were not capable of taking care of themselves, that they were somewhere between helpless children and orangutans.
In the 1995 “New Dixie Manifesto”, Fleming and Michael Hill argued that Southerners are pelted with ethnic slurs, denied self-government and stripped of their symbols, including the Confederate flag. Like any other people, they have the right to their history and cultural identity. “After so many decades of strife”, they wrote, “black and white Southerners of good will should be left alone to work out their destinies, avoiding, before it is too late, the urban hell that has been created by the lawyers, social engineers and imperial bureaucrats who have grown rich on programs that have done nothing to help anyone but themselves.”
Thomas DiLorenzo revisited the Southern paleo critique of Abraham Lincoln in his book, The Real Lincoln. He gives it a paleolibertarian twist, saying the president followed mercantilism, protectionism and the example of Alexander Hamilton. He also said that the Civil War was about destroying the right of secession, not freeing slaves. Furthermore, he claims that the praise Lincoln commonly receives from conservatives is misguided:
The Gettysburg Address was brilliant oratory, but it was also political subterfuge. As H.L. Mencken pointed out, it was the Southerners who were fighting for the consent of the governed and it was Lincoln’s government that opposed them. They no longer consented to being governed by Washington, D.C. Lincoln’s admonition that government “of the people, by the people, for the people” would perish from the earth if the right of secession were sustained was equally absurd. The United States remained a democracy, and the Confederate States of America would have been a democratic country as well. Lincoln’s notion that secession would “destroy” the government of the United States is also bizarre in light of the fact that after secession took place the US government fielded the largest and best-equipped army and navy in the history of the world up to that point for four long years.
As for the 1861–1865 conflict, Clyde Wilson suggest it be referred to as “The War to Preserve Southern Independence.” Fleming argues that secession was legal:
Those who hold the opinion (false and easy to refute) that the United States in 1860 were an amalgamated central state believe that the secession of South Carolina and the other Southern states was illegal, an act of wickedness that can be explained only by the desire of evil Southerners to defend slavery apana water bottle glass. Thus, in the upside-down and fact-free world of leftists like Harry Jaffa, the war was a “civil war” between the citizens of the same state or, better yet, a rebellion. Abolitionists clearly did not believe this, because after the War, they insisted that Southern states had left the Union and needed to be reconstructed. Everybody knew that it is a basic principle of international law, going back to Grotius at least, that in a confederated state the members have a right to leave.
Francis, while endorsing “authentic federalism,” stopped short at supporting a contemporary return to Southern secessionism, saying it is impractical and that the main political line of division in the United States is not between the regions of North and South (insofar as such regions can still be said to exist) but between elite and nonelite. He said that Middle Americans in both regions face the same threats.
David Brooks, a neoconservative critic, says that paleocons do not dream of seeing slavery reborn. Instead, he concludes that they link rural communities to a transcendent order and ancient institutions:
They do not shy away from expressing their true beliefs, and if they supported slavery they would probably say so. They merely believe in the social hierarchies. In those southern communities, they say, social roles were crucial to happiness and ordered sociability. “Aristotle recognized that a well-ordered society protected an ascending order of good through the institutionalization of rank”, Fleming and co-author Paul Gottfried wrote in their book The Conservative Movement. They are talking about the social pecking order in old-time towns—the folks who live on the hill, the merchants on Main Street, the village idiot on the green. On a larger scale, the paleocons contrast the virtues of the republic with the corruptions of empire. The empire throws its weight around in the world; the republic minds its own business.
William F. Buckley, Jr. was an unwitting influence on paleoconservatism. During the Cold War, his National Review magazine vowed to stand “athwart history, yelling Stop.” It promoted both Burke and Kirk, along with Frank Meyer’s theory of fusionism; it suggested that conservatives and libertarians reduce arguments with one another and present a united front against Communism. Many first-generation paleocons were National Review supporters, but slowly grew weary as the journal reflected more and more neoconservative influence, starting in the 1970s. Chronicles founder Leopold Tyrmand complained that the movement gave political solutions to cultural problems.
Open hostility broke out in the mid-1980s and was never resolved. Some paleocons argued that fusionism failed and suggested a new alliance on the right to stand outside the neoconservative consensus. Pat Buchanan’s statement that “We are old church and old right, anti-imperialist and anti-interventionist, disbelievers in Pax Americana” reflects this new coalition. William Rusher, former publisher of Buckley’s magazine, claims that paleocons are not “representative” conservatives. “The break between the National Review and the paleoconservatives is no tempest in a teapot”, he says. “It may well determine the direction of American foreign policy for decades to come.”
One problem, according to Paul Gottfried and Samuel Francis, was that this was an “archaic conservatism.” This means it saw too much continuity between ancient traditions and the contemporary West, which was in “mortal combat” with Communists and other enemies. Gottfried says the problem with this mindset, which he finds even in Russell Kirk, is that it missed that “the U.S. was then clearly on its way to becoming a self-identified multicultural society overseen by a post-Christian managerial elite.” So these conservatives became too optimistic about modern-day civic virtue. Looking back, Thomas Fleming remarked that
In theory, the Cold Warriors were protecting the people of Britain, France, and the United States against the expansion of an evil empire, but nations can only be successfully defended by people who believe in nationhood, which is anathema to the liberal assumptions that are the foundation of most Western states.
One notable group, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), still follows the old fusionism. It showcases both neoconservative and Old Right ideas, such as anti-interventionism, limited government and cultural regionalism, in its publications and conferences. While it favors free-market solutions it tends to recognize the limitations of the market, or as economist Wilhelm Roepke says, “the market is not everything.” ISI scholarship includes analysis of agrarian and distributist works, along with the idea of an “humane economy.”
One fusionist, James Burnham, left an important influence on paleocons, especially on Samuel Francis. Paul Gottfried said that the two men believed that social forces create ideologies—and that “moral visions are the mere accompaniments of the process by which classes make themselves economically dominant and try to control other groups.” Burnham wrote in 1967:
In real life, men are joined on a much less than universal scale into a variety of groupings—family, community, church, business, club, party, etc.—which on the political scale reach the maximum significant limit in the nation. Since there is at present time no Humanity or Mankind (socially and historically speaking), there cannot be a World Government—though conceivably there could be a world empire.
Burnham presented a theory of managerial bureaucracy, presenting a class of elites that gain power in government, business and the media, based on technical skill. Here’s how Francis, who said this theory inspired George Orwell’s “1984”, explained it:
Those who hold such skills are able to dominate the state, the economy, and the culture because the structures of these sectors of modern society require technical functions that only specially skilled personnel can provide. The older elites simply lack those skills and eventually lose actual control over the key institutions of modern mass society. As the new, managerial elites take over, society is reconfigured to reflect and support their interests as a ruling class—interests radically different from those of the older elites. Generally, the interests of the new managerial elites consist in maintaining and extending the institutions they control and in ensuring that the needs for and rewards of the technical skills they possess are steadily increased, that society become as dependent on them and their functions as possible.
Francis, unlike some other paleocons, argued that the existence of managers alone is harmless. Rather, the multiculturalist ideology they adopted drives it toward tyranny. He said that “white, Christian, male-oriented, bourgeois values and institutions” are the principal restraints of managerial power, which this class seeks to undermine. He explained:
If we could somehow take out the ideology, change the minds of those who control the state, and convert them into paleo-conservatives, the state apparatus itself would be neutral. What really animates its drive toward a totalitarian conquest and reconfiguration of society and the human mind itself comes from the ideology that the masters of the managerial state have adopted, a force that is entirely extraneous and largely accidental to the structure by which they exercise power.
Francis also said, however, that ideology helps the managerial elite increase its grip on society:
It is in the long-term interest of the overclass (not of anyone else) to managerialize society so that all aspects of life are organized, packaged, routinized and subjugated to manipulation by the technical skill the overclass possesses, and that interest requires the undermining of institutions and norms that are independent of, and impediments to, overclass control.
As paleoconservatism germinated as a reaction to neoconservatism, most of its development as a distinct political tendency under that name has been in the United States, although there are parallels in the traditional Old Right of other Western nations. French conservatives such as Jean Raspail, and British conservatives such as Enoch Powell, Peter Hitchens, Antony Flew (whom the Rockford Institute awarded the Ingersoll Prize), John Betjeman, and Roger Scruton as well as Scruton’s Salisbury Review and Derek Turner’s Quarterly Review, as well as Australia’s Sydney Traditionalist Forum all emphasize skepticism, stability, and the Burkean inheritance, and may be considered broadly sympathetic to paleo values. For example, Hitchens wrote, in opposition to the Iraq War,
There is nothing conservative about war. For at least the last century war has been the herald and handmaid of socialism and state control. It is the excuse for censorship, organized lying, regulation and taxation. It is paradise for the busybody and the nark. It damages family life and wounds the Church. It is, in short, the ally of everything summed up by the ugly word ‘progress.’
Note the One Nation movement in 1990s Australia, Germany’s Junge Freiheit, and Italy’s Lega Nord. And compare the Russian dissidents Andrei Navrozov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
While in the past, many paleocons have criticized Darwinism, as such theories become widely accepted in society, many paleoconservative intellectuals have became interested in the findings of anthropology, genetics, and sociobiology for insight into human behavior. Murphy says that Thomas Fleming was influenced by the works of writers like E. E. Evans-Pritchard and Edward O. Wilson. While criticizing evolutionary biologists like Stephen Jay Gould they see evidence for traditional values in these fields. The Rockford Institute even awarded sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson a 1989 Ingersoll Prize.
Thomas Fleming takes a view of human nature that mixes classical philosophy with sociobiology. He said, “the laws and decrees enacted by human government are mutable and sometimes tyrannical”, yet “the laws of human nature, worked tight within the spirals of the genetic code, are unchanging and just.” Critic Tony Glaister describes the attitude thus:
For Fleming, human nature is rooted in the biological family; consequently, the extension of state power he sees as thoroughly deleterious. Family adhesion is the glue of our biologically determined natural social environment. From John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to existentialism (and by implication, nihilism) and social fragmentation, the way is shorter than we think. The principle that society consists of a social bond created contractually between each member and every other, is in accordance with the existentialist belief that existence precedes essence. For the existentialist, man creates his nature and his history by existing and the actions which constitute that existence and not by virtue of a biological inheritance or the unfolding of an inherent “human nature”. If there is no God which precedes Man, there is no essence to which his reactions refer. This implies a rejection of essential or immutable human nature.
In this way, Fleming sees both the sexual revolution and abortion as “a revolution against human nature and against the most basic elements of human society.”
Do not look for parallels in ancient Greek bisexuality (a much misinterpreted phenomenon) or Roman decadence. Ordinary people in the ancient world lived as most ordinary people have always lived, dividing their time between worrying about crops and chasing after the children who are supposed to be tending the livestock or working in the fields. The tiny elite classes might become as decadent as they liked without influencing the rest of us whose lives are shaped by natural necessities. Yes, in 18th century Europe an anti-ethic of irresponsible hedonism reached its peak in figures like Voltaire and Sade, but the sexual antics of the Palais Royal were not being imitated by peasants in the Vendée. Only in the 20th century have we universalized the rebellion against nature and God and communicated it to the common man.
Differing views exist on the specific question of evolution vs. intelligent design. Fleming says intelligent design is “a boneheaded piece of pseudo-science, almost as simplistic as the naive materialism that Darwinists teach.” Pat Buchanan says that “science itself points to intelligent design”, such that the existence of natural laws, such as in gravity, physics or chemistry, implies “the existence of a lawmaker.” Steve Sailer has argued that leftists downplay the “politically incorrect” implications of evolution. Sailer writes, for instance, that Richard Dawkins dances around the real implications of kin selection theory:
[Pierre L. van den Berghe’s concept of] “ethnic nepotism” [lead him to] to sociobiology and its bedrock finding: the late William D. Hamilton’s theory of kin selection and inclusive fitness—the more genes we share with another individual, the more altruistic we feel toward him. There are no clear boundaries between extended family, tribe, ethnic group, or race. So van den Berghe coined the term “ethnic nepotism” to describe the human tendency to favor “our people.” Ethnocentrism, clannishness, xenophobia, nationalism, and racism are the almost inevitable flip sides of ethnic nepotism… [The] genetic basis for ethnic nepotism with each racial group is roughly as strong on average as the etymologically classic case of nepotism among close kin—the uncle-nephew bond. Ethnic nepotism isn’t a metaphor. It’s a reality. And we’d better accept it—whether Richard Dawkins thinks it would be good for his career or not.
Eschewing Platonic definitions of race, Sailer argues that a race is better thought of in terms of common ancestry. He argues:
A race is simply an extremely extended family…. [A]s you extend the boundaries of the extended family farther and farther out, you typically find that they start turning in upon themselves. Most families down through history have married almost exclusively within some sort of population that’s more restricted than the entire human species. Thus, while traits unique to a family fade with time (forward or backward) and outward to more distant relatives, a racial group’s biological traits can remain quite stable over fairly long periods.
Pat Buchanan calls neoconservatism “a globalist, interventionist, open borders ideology.” The paleoconservatives argue that the “neocons” are illegitimate interlopers in the conservative movement. In 1986, historian Stephen Tonsor, who rejects the label paleoconservative, said:
It has always struck me as odd, even perverse, that former Marxists have been permitted, yes invited, to play such a leading role in the Conservative movement of the twentieth century. It is splendid when the town whore gets religion and joins the church. Now and then she makes a good choir director, but when she begins to tell the minister what he ought to say in his Sunday sermons, matters have been carried too far.
“…I suppose I am more of a paleo than a neo-conservative, since I believe that the conservative position is rooted in cultural rather than economic factors, and that the single-minded pursuit of competitive markets is just as much a threat to social order as the single-minded pursuit of equality.”